Calls for new Feb/March peak dhufish spawning closure to apply all sectors

Fishing for bottom fish in the West Coast Bioregion has begun and many will be able to enjoy the quintessential West Aussie experience of getting out on the water fishing with families and friends and catching a top-quality feed of dhufish, baldies or snapper.

Under the recently announced management changes, fishers will have six weeks to enjoy their fishing until a new February-March closure comes into effect coinciding with part of the peak dhufish spawning period.

Recfishwest recommended better protection of spawning dhufish as part of measures to speed up the recovery after receiving thousands of fishers’ views and advice from our West Coast Demersal Expert Working Group.

The strong support for this measure has reflected on the level of care fishers have for these iconic fish.

Click here to see how you can play your part in ensuring a better future for west coast demersals

Fisheries Management 101 – protecting spawning fish

The February/March closure will only apply to recreational fishers with many in the fishing community questioning the logic of this closure not applying to all sectors.

The only reason publicly given for this decision appears on a frequently asked questions document on the Fisheries website, which says, “A targeted spawning closure for dhufish is not proposed as there are currently no known large spawning aggregations of dhufish in the West Coast Bioregion. Targeted spawning closures benefit species that aggregate in some form and experience higher catchability during peak spawning compared to outside the spawning period.

CEO Dr Andrew Rowland has highlighted the apparent inconsistency between this statement, multiple pieces of scientific research and fishers’ experience.

“Given every fisher knows dhufish aggerate to spawn over summer and there are numerous published studies by the Department’s own scientific experts that confirm the existence of these aggregations, this response makes little sense,” said Dr Rowland. “Just because dhufish aggregations are not as big as snapper aggregations in Cockburn Sound, it does not mean they are any less important.”

Fisheries scientists freely admit dhufish form spawning aggregations and suggest they are more vulnerable to fishing activity during this time. For example, a 2014 study by leading Fisheries scientists stated “… commercial fishing for West Australian dhufish in the South-West area occurs largely on fish that are aggregating to spawn in a relatively restricted part of that management area in the austral summer”. This is just one of many peer-reviewed scientific references supporting the existence of dhufish aggregations.

“If the Government truly cares about ensuring the sustainability of demersal fish between Augusta and Kalbarri, they need to explain why they do not support better protection for spawning dhufish,” said Dr Rowland.

“The efforts of recreational fishers to give spawning dhufish a break will be largely wasted if the Government continues to allow others to target these same fish.

“This issue points to a fundamental inequity in the way this fishery has been managed for decades and it’s too important for old and embedded sectoral favouritism to continue to underpin management decisions.

“As a sector with a strong track-record in safeguarding fish stocks for the future and in driving fish spawning closures – we have a right to expect clarity on why aggregations of snapper and baldchin should be protected, but aggregations of dhufish shouldn’t.

“We will continue to make this case to the Government and ensure that the commercial licence buy-back scheme announced by the Minister is implemented quickly, efficiently and in a way that can at last meet community expectations of equitable management.”

Government’s six-month west coast demersal ban an unreasonable, unnecessary overreach

Recfishwest is deeply disappointed by the Fisheries Minister’s decision to impose a six-month ban on west coast demersal fishing.

Recfishwest has always supported action but shutting out 700,000 West Australians from being able to catch dhufish and pink snapper for six months of the year is completely unnecessary.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Our sector has a strong-track record in putting the fish first and we agree there needs to be some changes to help stocks continue to rebuild.

“We presented clear, science-backed alternative proposals to Government which would have reduced recfishers’ catches by 50 per cent, met sustainability targets and allowed people the freedom to spend more time fishing with families and friends.

“Yet, the Minister has decided on extended bans for the recreational fishing sector and has put commercial profit over the public good with the lion’s share of this fishery given to a small number of commercial operators.

“Today’s announcement restricts recreational fishers to an annual catch of 115t, a reduction of more than 50% on current catches, while commercial operators will be able to catch 240t, a reduction of only 12% on current catches.”

Recfishwest’s proposals were developed during months of consultation with the recreational fishing community and a specially convened West Coast Demersal Expert Working Group.

One of these proposals aimed at speeding up the rebuilding of demersal fish stocks included a closure during the dhufish spawning period.

“The fact that this closure will not apply to the commercial fishing industry does not reflect best practice fisheries management,” said Dr Rowland.

“Recfishwest also called for a buy-back of commercial fishing licences and welcomes this element of the Minister’s package.

“A commercial licence buy-back will help deliver a fairer, more equitable outcome which will deliver the greatest benefits for the greatest number in the community.

“The Government has a golden opportunity to fix a broken and outdated fisheries policy by ensuring the prompt and effective implementation of this buy-back and reduce its ill-advised six-month ban.”

Record online petition sends a clear message to Government – there is a better way for west coast demersals

The petition opposing proposed nine-month west coast demersal ban has clocked more than 17,000 signatures making it the biggest online Parliamentary petition in WA history.

Thousands signed the petition over the course of last week’s Perth Boat Show – and since then it’s gone up nearly another 2,000 and continues to climb.

Sign the parliamentary petition against the Government’s proposed nine-month west coast demersal ban here.

Our team attending the Boat Show spoke to thousands of fishers, tackle store owners and local boat dealers and manufacturers – many with grave concerns about the future of their fishing, livelihoods and their jobs.

It was the same story Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland heard on the road last week visiting coastal fishing communities and local tackle store owners from Geraldton to Augusta.

Have a listen to some of the things we heard at the Boat Show in the video below from fishers and members of the fishing tackle and boating sectors.

Andrew said, “It’s no wonder there is so much angst out there when you consider the proposed ban would halt fishing for more than 100 demersal species, including dhufish and pink snapper across 900 km of coastal waters for nine months of the year for the next eight years.

“The proposed area of the ban from Augusta to Kalbarri is home to 90 per cent of the WA population – so the fall-out will be huge for fishing and all the small business owners along the coast who depend on it for their livelihoods.”

Asking the Government to come back to the table

“There is a better way to help speed up the recovery of the fish stocks without the devastating impact on fishing and all the benefits it brings to the community and the WA economy. That’s why we are working to develop a more sensible way forward with Government,” said Andrew.

“We agree with the Government that more needs to be done to speed up the recovery of these fish – but as the Premier himself said on the radio last weeky, ‘The question is how?” So, let’s have a serious discussion around the alternative measures we developed to ensure the recovery curve keeps going up without the dire consequences of what is being proposed.

“Let’s not forget we developed our recommendations to Government over several months, drawing on our own expertise as well as that of a panel of fishing experts. Our advice was informed by feedback from thousands of WA recreational fishers, DPIRD fisheries data and in consultation with DPIRD researchers and managers. Surely, this advice warrants serious consideration by the Minister and DPIRD?


We want there to be dhufish forever – which is why we are recommending Government introduce a dhufish spawning closure for the recreational, commercial and charter sectors.  

So what does the alternatives to a nine-month ban look like?

It is better protection of spawning fish, better fishery management including an additional closure period, better rules, better education and better data to ensure west coast demersal fish for the future.

Read a simple summary of our recommendations here 

Recfishwest received a huge amount of support at the show for what we are doing – we want to thank you as it means a great deal to the team and drives us forward in our purpose to protect and create sustainable and enjoyable fishing for the community.

Many continue to ask us what more they can do to voice their concerns – so please consider the following:

  1. Sign the petition if you haven’t already done so and encourage your family and mates to do the same;
  2. Contact your local Member of Parliament and let them know how the proposals will impact you and your family. Find tips on how to reach out to your local MP here.
  3. Call up your local talk back radio station and let people out there know what fishing means for you and your family and how there is a better way to speed up the demersal recovery than what is being proposed. For those in the Perth area – there’s 6PR and ABC mornings for starters!
  4. Write a letter to the West Australian newspaper – all letters must be SIGNED and include the writer’s full-name, address (not postal) and telephone number.
  5. Encourage your family and friends to join Recfishwest – send a clear message that recreational fishers are united in supporting a more sensible outcome. They can join through this link here.

“Let’s keep working together to get our voices heard – we need to make sure the Government is listening – after all there are 700,000 of us!,” said Andrew.

Big thanks to the thousands of you who joined us at the Perth Boat Show and gave us your support.

Juvenile kingies get a royal flush from stocking “cannon”

Another 20,000 juvenile yellowtail kingfish have been stocked into Perth waters – the latest batch of fish to be released in the State Government’s three-year yellowtail kingfish stocking program.

Fremantle Sailing Club and the Cockburn Powerboats Club each hosted the release of 10,000 juvenile yellowtail kingfish hatched and reared at DPIRD’s Australian Centre for Applied Aquaculture Research (ACAAR).

The initiative was part of the recfishing COVID recovery package announced by Premier Mark McGowan and Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland in August, 2020.

All the fish were released at a slightly larger size than previous release in the 15-20g bracket using DPIRD’s “kingie cannon” – a large pipe down which the fish gush out straight into their new environment from DPIRD’s stocking trailer.

Not only does this improve the transport and release of the fish, but also increases their chances of survival into larger line-sizzling giants that metro sport fishers.

With these kingies now released after the most vulnerable phase of their lifecycle, combined with their fast growth rate – nearly 5kg in only 18 months – it should mean those fish that make it into adulthood should be of legal size by 2024.

Daniel Bullock with a nice adult yellowtail Kingfish caught off Perth – photo courtesy of Beau Suladra

Need tips and advice on how to catch kingies? Click here for Scott Coghlan’s Scott’s Species article on catching kingies

Play your part and send DPIRD your kingie skeletons

All the juvenile kingfish reared for these releases team have had their otoliths (ear bones) stained allowing fish from the stocking program to be identified when caught and analysed in the future.

The initiative is breaking new ground and fishers can play a part in helping monitor its progress by donating their kingie frames to DPIRD’s Send Us Your Skeletons program.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said the collaboration with DPIRD along with support from Daiwa, Recfishwest’s official community fish stocking partners, is a great example of how partnership-working and fishing stocking programs can have positive benefits for recreational fishers.

“These kingfish like the rest of their Seriola family are hardy, fast-growing – so they’re a great species for stocking,” said Andrew. “The first batch of fish released two years ago should have reached legal size by now – so it’s going to be interesting to see if and how many of these fish start showing up in fishers’ catches.

“We’ve been really pleased to see the Government getting behind innovative initiatives like this – we don’t just want sustainable fish stocks, we want abundant fish stocks and it’s really important fishers play their part by donating their kingie frames and assist in determining just how effective stocking of pelagic species like these can be.”

Check out our happy snaps from the kingie releases

 

Scott Species – Broadbill swordfish, iconic globally, elusive locally

Xiphias gladius

Eating: Four stars

ID: Long, broad bill. Large eye. Brownish/black along the back.

Broadbill swordfish are an iconic species, a global sportfishing target prized by recreational and commercial fishers alike.

However, it is the latter category of fishers that see far more broadbill, due to the far offshore locations where they are found, as showcased in the Hollywood disaster movie based on a true story, The Perfect Storm, when captain Billy Tyne took his ill-fated crew to the middle of nowhere on a broadbill hunt that ended tragically.

Of the billfish species we have in WA, broadies are the most elusive. This is the case even though they are found right the way along the coast all the way south to Bremer Bay.

Always need heavy gear for these beasts!

Because broadbill usually live in very deep water, beyond the Continental Shelf, they are hard to target for most recreational anglers. However, some do and the Exmouth Game Fishing Club actually has a state-wide competition for this enigmatic species.

I’ve only ever seen one and it was out wide off Exmouth after a trip to the Monte Bellos. Conditions were perfect and skipper Bernie Vale decided we would try for broadbill. He had a spot with a sheer wall in very deep water and while we were hopeful it felt like needle in a haystack stuff as the baits went down.

Within a minute or two one of the lines went off, much to our surprise. The line went slack and we wondered what had happened, but when we heard splashing off in the distance we dared to dream. And so it was, with a decent broadbill swordfish emerging out of the darkness some time later. Caught by Gavin Cameron, it was at the time a record at around 65 kilos. With that big eye and imposing bill, the broadie was an amazing sight.

I was next on the rod, but lightning didn’t strike twice. The Exmouth area is probably the most likely spot to target broadies, with the Shelf so close to shore. Inn Keeper Charters in Exmouth has actually specialised in catching them.

They have been caught off Perth though, and off Albany and Bremer Bay. There was also a very lost one swimming around inside a Perth marina a couple of years back. Far be it from me to offer too much advice on catching a fish I have only ever seen once, but those who target broadbill have honed their craft and can be quite confident of catching these ghosts of the deep most times they fish.

You can’t mistake a broadbill swordfish for anything else. Gavin Cameron with what was at the time a record fish, caught off Exmouth.

The fishery is still very untapped here in WA, but on the east coast is far more popular and consistently productive, as their anglers have unlocked the secrets to catching them regularly.

Where they were considered primarily a night target they are now often caught during the day. Fishing personality Al McGlashan in one of the east coast anglers who has helped crack the broadbill code. Growing up to 4.5m and more than 500 kilos, and living up to 15 years, broadies require a very specialised approach.

Good electronics are obviously a must, as you need to be able to see canyons and walls in up to 600m of water, along with bait. Broadbill eat fish, crustaceans and squid, and our Exmouth one was caught on the latter.

Rigs are best left to the experts, but one consistent part of the outfit is usually lights, which help to attract the fish in the dark way down below. Obviously a heavy sinker or sinkers is needed to get the bait down to where the fish are.

Once hooked, broadbill are clearly a very strong opponent and many are lost during the fight. They will come to the surface and jump, as ours did.

Due care is needed when bringing them to the boat, as that large bill for stunning prey can cause serious damage, Broadbill are regarded as exceptional eating, so even though they are a big fish they never go to waste.

Buccaneer Archipelago marine parks highlight need for better marine park planning process

Recfishwest has praised the Broome and Derby fishing community and Traditional Owners for their role in reining back original plans for the Buccaneer Archipelago marine parks following the State Government’s and Traditional Owners’ joint announcement of the revised final plans on Sunday 31 July. 

Announced just days before Christmas in 2020, the original plans would have locked fishers from 95 per cent of the most valuable fishing waters in and around the Buccaneer Archipelago. 

However, following serious concerns from the local fishing community, Traditional Owner groups met with local fishing representatives in October last year to discuss cultural and fishing values.  

The meeting, together with submissions from fishers resulted in a revised plan announced on Sunday which maintained some fishing access to important areas such as the Inland Sea, Strickland Bay, the Graveyards and several creek systems north of Derby. 

FIND MORE INFORMATION ON THE BUCCANEER MARINE PARKS PLANS HERE

The final plans allowed for continuing access to some key fishing locations which were off limits in the original plans. Photo: Unreel Charters

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “While certainly not the greatest outcome for fishers, it could have been a lot worse and the final management plans to be implemented allow for continuing access to key fishing locations which would have been off limits under the original draft. 

“The Bardi, Jawi, Mayala and Dambimangari Traditional Owners and members of the local fishing community, particularly the Broome and Mary Island fishing clubs, should be congratulated for working together in a meaningful and respectful way to achieve a more balanced outcome than the stark scenario we were all confronted with back in 2020. 

“All the fishing club members and local fishers who took the time to fill in DBCA’s consultation survey also deserve credit – their input has undoubtedly helped achieve a better outcome.”  

However, the final plans could have been greatly improved with a more inclusive process from the outset, and an opportunity was missed to set up an early foundation for collaboration between Traditional Owner groups and fishers developing these marine parks together.  

A failure to understand how fishers use and value the area 

“Recfishwest, along with local fishers are supportive of Traditional Owners and traditional knowledge playing a greater role in the protection and management of these areas,” said Andrew.  

“The traditional knowledge of the Buccaneer’s sea country and aquatic environments has been built up over thousands of years. This places Traditional Owners in a strong position to protect sea country through management approaches that integrate this knowledge.  

We were disappointed that the original plans lacked the recognition of important family-friendly experiences such as fishing for mangrove jack, fingermark and barramundi in the creeks and nearshore waters. This omission highlights how the process was flawed in failing to properly understand how fishers use and value the area. 

Recfishwest is pleased to see a change of consultation approach for marine parks currently being planned for the south coast and for the extension of the Marmion Marine Park in the Perth metro region. 

The Fisheries Minister’s commitment to providing a support package to fishers and charter operators impacted by the Buccaneer Archipelago marine parks was also noted by Recfishwest.  

“What is needed in the future, however,” said Andrew,” is meaningful recognition by Government marine park planners of recreational fishing’s importance to coastal communities and visiting fishers’ lifestyle and culture.  

“The aim must be improving fishing experiences rather than simply locking fishers out of key fishing locations that have been enjoyed by generations of West Aussies.”

The Buccaneer is truly spectacular Sea Country. Photo: Annabelle Sandes

Scott’s Species – bludger trevally, the north coast party gate crashers

Carangoides gymnosthesus

Eating: 2 stars

ID: Elongated body with brown/golden spots. Pointed head.

Bludger trevally aren’t something you generally expect to catch. They are more an occasional capture bobbing up while chasing other species.

However, when they do show up they usually are like the most out-of-control party gate crashers – bringing a heap of enthusiastic friends and causing chaos!

Bludgers often show up in huge schools. I remember veteran Pilbara fisherman Darry Hitchen telling me once that bludgers were the only fish he had seen that would create such water movement the water level seemed to rise around them.

A pack of bludger trevally chasing down a popper

I actually did experience this phenomena at the Mackerel Islands not long after he told me the story. Michael Sammut, Steve Hart and I were at Penguin Bank and it was going off, with surface explosions everywhere. The sharks were bad though, so we decided to take the hooks off poppers and get some video and photos of surface hits. We had been doing this for a while when all of the sudden a huge school of bludgers showed up behind the boat. They just followed us for about 30 minutes and every lure we cast saw dozens of them chasing it down. We got some spectacular footage and shots of the horde and it was great fun as they followed lures right to the rod tip time and again. I could see exactly what Darryl meant, with the pack of fish chasing the lure each time actually pushing up the water above their backs.

An underwater view of a school of bludgers at the Mackerel Islands.

It was incredible to witness. Bludgers are easily mistaken for goldspot trevally, especially with their spots on the flanks, but they have a more elongated body and more pointed nose. Their eye is also closer to the level of their mouth. They are more streamlined than most of their trevally cousins, so don’t have quite the pulling power of the other species, but are certainly a willing lure and bait taker and can be a lot of fun to catch.

We have caught most of ours on stickbaits in the 8-14cm range, but they are also quite partial to metal jigs in slightly deeper water. Most of the bludgers I have caught have been relatively small, in the 2-3kg range, but they do grow to almost a metre in length and 11 kilos.

They are largely an inshore species found near structures such as reefs and island, where they hunt fish, prawns and crabs, and we’ve encountered them generally in water from a couple of metres to around 30m. Bludgers are usually found from Shark Bay north.

Scott’s Stories – The importance of fishing for mental health

For some people fishing is just a hobby or a pastime, but for leading Queensland marine biologist Daryl McPhee, it was a genuine life-saver.

The health and well-being benefits of fishing are often forgotten when discussing the role it plays in our lives, but Daryl knows from his own experience just what that can mean.

Now based at Bond University, he is one of Australia’s leading experts on the marine environment, including having worked with the WA State Government on shark mitigation policy, but as a youngster Daryl found himself in the heartbreaking position of being homeless.

With an alcoholic mother, a teenage Daryl turned to fishing as a way to feed himself, leading to lifetime love of our pastime.

A young Daryl McPhee with a Spanish mackerel

Daryl recently recounted his remarkable life story, and the crucial part fishing played in it, to ABC Radio.

“I had a passion for marine science as a little kid,” he said.

“My father committed suicide when I was 18 months of age. He was an alcoholic.

“I wasn’t introduced to it by my parents; I just love fish and fishing and everything started from there.”

At the age of 13, Daryl and his mum were evicted from their rental property in Sydney and headed to Brisbane, forcing him to live in a crisis shelter.

He had a fishing rod and would catch the train to a spot where he would fish to feed himself while also studying at a local high school.

“In the early years I didn’t go (to school) too much, because I didn’t have money to do things like excursions,” he said.

“I’d go fishing for food, because fishing became the way that I fed myself.”

Ultimately, Daryl realised education was the key to a better life and studied diligently, choosing science for a career and graduating from University of Queensland with three degrees.

His mother passed away after a prolonged illness related to alcohol, but she would be proud of her son’s achievements, in which fishing still features prominently.

“As I’ve come to realise through my own academic studies, fishing is very important in terms of mental health, particularly (for) men,” he said.

“A lot of men aren’t happy or predisposed to want to do things like yoga etc, but fishing is a mindfulness activity that works well for a lot of men.”

Darryl has recognised how important fishing is for his mental health and others – particularly men.

Daryl has passed the love of fishing onto his children, and takes great pride in posting pictures of their latest catches to his Facebook page.

Like he did all those years ago when he had nothing else, their catches are usually destined for the family table, where they are greatly appreciated.

Daryl himself still fishes every week and also enjoys taking some of his students fishing.

Chris Dixon’s tips on avoiding the dangers of rock fishing

Thinking about fishing from the rocks? You need to read this article!

Fishing from rocks comes with many risks, particularly in poor weather conditions and high swell. Even seasoned rock fishers can get caught out by so-called ‘rogue’ waves if not fully aware and prepared. Take Recfishwest safe fishing ambassador and famed rock fishing Youtuber, Chris Dixon for example.

Chris’s  YouTube channel ‘Dixons Fishing’,  keenly watched by 23,000 followers, showcases his fishing adventures from the beach, off boats and from some of WA’s renowned rocks and cliffs.

Check out Chris’s YouTube channel by clicking here

He is all too aware that the adrenaline rush of hooking up to a rampaging kingie or blue groper “off the stones” can override the constant attention you need to pay to the ocean and what it’s doing when rock-fishing at all times – with the worst possible outcome if you’re not careful. “I had always seen those heart-breaking crosses at fishing spots where tragically others have lost their lives,” said Chris.

Rewind a decade to a 21-year-old Chris eager to try his hand at rock fishing, when he was confident his skills would keep him safe from dangerous waves. “I was young and stupid, but careful. I was thinking surely it wouldn’t happen to me,” said Chris. “On a summer’s day, I was fishing a ledge that faced the Southern Ocean and was gaffing a sizable groper for my brother, Aron. I was five metres below him on a large sloping rock with us both well above the height any waves had been that day. It was a sunny with small swell and light winds, so nice conditions.”

But the mood of the waves can unexpectedly change very quickly

Rock fishing’s rewards should never make you lose sight of the risks involved – no fish is worth your life!

“I lost four grand’s worth of gear, but was lucky not to lose my life,” seasoned rock fisher Chris Dixon. 

“Out of nowhere, I looked to my left and watched a wall of white water washing along the rock towards me. I dropped the gaff in my hand and turned and dug my fingers into a crack near my feet, getting as low as I could.

“The water washed right over me for what felt like minutes. Once the water receded, I was left right where I had been but was completely soaked,” said Chris.

“It only took that one wave to wash most of our tackle into the water from where it was set up. I lost $4,000 worth of gear was lost, but I was lucky not to lose my life.

“I had no life jacket on and I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to get out of where I was or make it far enough swimming to reach safety. We were a few hours of four-wheel driving from the nearest highway and far from any help should we have needed it. If I had gone in that day, I am certain I wouldn’t be here now.”

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way and there are simple ways you can prevent yourself from ending up in a similar position by paying close attention to your surroundings before dropping a line off the rocks.

Rethinking what you thought you knew about waves 

“That day made me stop and think about my close call with a so-called ‘freak wave’ and the things that caused it. I re-checked the weather for the day and swell was the same size at 1.5m all day, so seemingly nothing to be concerned about,” he said.

“There was however a swell direction change from south-west to south-east and a swell period change from 14-seconds out to 18-seconds. I had no idea what that meant and how it could affect my rock fishing, but with a bit of research and talking to others, I am confident I had figured out the cause of ‘freak’, ‘king’ or ‘rogue’ waves. Whatever you call them, I don’t think they are unpredictable.”

Click here to watch this video on how to fish the south coast safely

Here are Chris’s tips on how to be one step ahead of the rogue waves.

Spotting wave direction changes

Wave and swell conditions can change very quickly along the WA coastline.

“Firstly, direction changes. With rock fishing your waves go back and forth in a rhythm. If you sit and watch a spot before fishing, you’ll see how most waves do almost the same thing and then a set will come through and be a little larger, nothing out of the ordinary.

“The most common swell direction for the southern part of the WA coast from Shark Bay to Esperance is south-west. This is what I call the dominant swell direction, and this can change frequently.

“When big high-pressure cells sit in the Great Australian Bight during summer, the swell can be flattened by the easterly winds and then the waves can come from the east along the south coast. Up to 2.5m easterly swells can be seen each summer and this is a dangerous swell if you’re fishing on rocks facing into it.

“Winter storms or cold fronts can produce southerly or even west-north-westerly swells. On days where the swell direction changes, you can have a wave pattern that comes through with no issues and then one wave will come from the direction it’s changing to. It’s those waves that bounce off the rocks differently.

“It can cause the following few waves to pick up in size and come much higher up the rocks than they would have otherwise. This is what I would call a freak wave. These conditions I find normally come a day before a storm (often the calm before a storm) or during summer as sustained winds change the swell direction.”

Understanding the ‘swell period’ and ‘swell timing’

“The next important factor you need to understand is swell period. There are two parts to this. Put simply, it’s the time between each wave. The larger the number in seconds, the more force the wave has. For example, a 12-second period has 12-seconds between each wave.

For rock fishing, the rhythm of waves is steady if the swell is evenly spaced. If a wave out of time with the others suddenly hits the rocks, it can multiply or bounce off other waves. The easiest way to describe it is like double bouncing someone on a trampoline. This unsteady rhythm can cause unpredictable waves and dangerous conditions. To reduce the risk of coming across a situation like that, I won’t fish any location that faces into the swell direction that has a change in a swell period.

The second part to swell period is the timing. A 12-second wave two metres high has half the energy of an 18-second wave also two metres high. The shorter the swell period, the taller a wave stands up, but it doesn’t have much water behind it moving so it has less energy to push up the rocks. However, a larger swell period of 16-20 seconds like we encounter before storms can be moving a lot more water with a lot more force. Even though the swell is the same size, a longer period wave can push much further up the rocks. I won’t fish any day with an increase in swell period or a swell period over 16-seconds in a location that faces into the swell to avoid these dangerous waves.

With that extra information I can now better predict what the swell is going to be doing and how it will affect my day’s fishing. I can then choose a location to fish that will be safer in the conditions.”

More ways to ensure coming home safely from a day’s rock fishing

Chris also recommends keeping a logbook and recording conditions each time you fish – if you’re serious about fishing from the rocks on a regular basis.

“I have a diary that I keep with all the conditions from all spots I’ve fished previously. I can then look at the weather forecast for the day I want to fish and check my diary to confirm it’s been safe to fish that weather in the past. Since making a few changes like that over the past decade since my scare, I haven’t come across another freak wave,” he said.

If you’re not experienced rock fishing should not be attempted lightly and keeping the sand between your toes might be a better option. But if you are going to give it a crack, make sure you take on board Chris’s advice above, you should also check out our  rock fishing safety tips here.

 

Chris’s brother, Aron, with a very solid hook-up on the south coast.

Scott’s Species – Rankin Cod, ranking high on the target list

Ephinephelus multinotatus

Eating: 4.5 stars

ID – Dark grey/brown colouration, white spots on flanks.

A solid Rankin at the Mackerel Islands for Morris Wilkinson.

Rankin cod, are to my eyes, one of the most striking fish in the ocean.

Once you have seen one you’ll never confuse them with anything else. With their greyish/brown colouration and large white spots they are easily identified.

Their colouration does decrease as they get older, but not enough to confuse identification.

Rankin cod are found from the Abrolhos north, but really come into their own from Carnarvon. In recent years they appear to have moved slightly farther south, with the odd fish regularly caught off Perth.

I can recall Darryl Hitchen getting one a few years ago off Fremantle. The interesting thing about Rankin cod is how aggressive a predator they actually are.

A nice rankin cod on a soft plastic.

While they are generally a demersal fish caught near the bottom, they will often come up a long way to hit a bait or lure.

We’ve caught some rippers when trolling for Spanish mackerel at the Mackerel Islands. From what I have seen Rankin are a species that has actually continued to do well despite increasing fishing pressures, despite being usually found around coral structure in relatively shallow water.

There seem to be more caught each year on our Mackerel Islands Seafaris, and the size also appears to be increasing with time.

They are generally regarded to grow to about a metre and 9 kilos, and we’re seeing more and more towards that size. In recent years we’ve had some of the biggest I have ever seen caught at the Mackerel Islands.

Morris Wilkinson and I caught a battered old fish at the Mackerels a couple of years ago, which bore the scars of a long life. As they are quite an aggressive fish, Rankin aren’t usually hard to catch in areas where they are found.

As mentioned a deep-diving bibbed minnow trolled over decent bottom structure, which they like, is a good way to pick them up.

We’ve also caught them on jigs, soft plastics and soft plastic vibes, usually in 10-20m of water. Occasionally we’ve spotted schools of fish on the sounder that have turned out be groups of Rankin.

A rare rankin cod on fly near the islands off Carnarvon.

They are partial to the usual baits such fresh fish flesh, mulies and squid. A standard paternoster rig is all that is needed.

Rankins appear to respond to berley and a successful approach is to anchor an hour before the change of tide, and set up a berley trail as the current slows, bringing fish to the boat.

The most productive fishing with berley is usually an hour either side of the tide. Drifting over likely ground is also effective.

Big Rankin are tough fighters and will try to head straight back to structure when hooked, so the angler needs to be quick to turn their head.

Rankin cod provide a good return for each fillet, with beautiful white flesh, and taste excellent, making them a popular catch both for looks and edibility.